Promoters and developers spend thousands of dollars every year trying to bring tourists to their cities. In bigger places, mega-events like Lollapalooza, or the CNE are the attractions. In smaller towns, the local service clubs volunteer hundreds of hours to set up festivals, fairs and shows.
Then there is Dingle, Ireland.
Dingle is a tiny fishing village on the west coast of the emerald isle. I’ve been there, and it’s one of those places that just has to be labelled “quaint.” A burgeoning metropolis of about 2000 people, it has been dubbed by some of the locals as the “last parish before the New World.” The main street is home to a grocery store, a couple of pubs, and some gift shops. It rains an awful lot in Dingle.
It was also home to Fungi.
Fungi was a dolphin. Stories vary on just how and when the friendly little critter arrived, but presumably, he was originally spotted by fisherman out working the coastline. Some of the more entrepreneurial lads began taking folks out on their boats to visit him. Fungi, as it turned out, was a bit of a ham, and he especially liked flirting with women. And thus, a tourist attraction was born.
The dolphin attracted visitors from all over the world. Psychiatrists took depressed patients out to swim with him, and photographers went nuts taking snapshots. Tourists from such diverse places as Wagga Wagga and Tuktoyuktuk gladly handed over their lunch money to go “Fungi-hunting.” Fungi was even featured on the Global television network here at home.
There were of course, the requisite Fungi T-shirts, coffee mugs and post cards for sale at the gift shops. The bed and breakfast homes filled up throughout the summer. The upshot of all this, is that one bored little dolphin pulled about £1 million per year into Dingle at the time. Think about that for a moment. That was more than $2 million in Canuck bucks. In Dingle.
This could mean one of two things. First: humans are easy to amuse. Well, that’s true enough. Take a long, hard look at some of the most famous tourist attractions in the world, and you’ll see what I mean. After all, what is the leaning tower of Pisa, if not a big time architectural boo-boo? The pyramids were the world’s first government sponsored employment/make-work project. Niagara Falls is essentially Mother Nature’s leakiest faucet.
Second: it means that eco-tourism is hot, hot, hot. There’s an explanation for this, which has to do with heritage. We pay money to go to Greek ruins — even thought there really isn’t anything there except rubble — because Ancient Greece is part of our history. People were beginning to realize that the environment is just as much a part of our Earthly heritage as Zeus and Apollo are.
Why have we only just begun to see this? I think that’s because we haven’t been able to separate ourselves from nature until the last century or so. It’s hard to appreciate the finer points of a lion when its teeth are buried in your left leg. Likewise, a rattlesnake is only cute(ish) at a distance.
Now though, as we continue to build a technological civilization, our natural heritage is going to become more and more important. There is a lesson to be learned here, developers. The pesky creature on the edge of town may just be a moose, but it’s our moose. Local residents might not be thrilled with it, but tourists from Indonesia will love it.
Clown festivals and peach fairs are great, but it may be better and easier to promote tourism alternatives. What is commonplace in your backyard, is unique to someone living in the Far East. If you’d be willing to pay money to see panda bears, you can bet other people would pay money to see our polar bears. And that, by the way, provides an incentive to preserve the environment.
One Irish dolphin = $2 million.
But let’s hope Fungi had kids.
Image credit: Midjourney